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/Palaeontological articles

Articles, features and information which have slightly more scientific content with an emphasis on palaeontology, such as updates on academic papers, published papers etc.

23 02, 2020

Tiny Fossil From Germany Lifts Lid on the Lepidosauromorphs

By | February 23rd, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Tiny Fossil Sheds Light on Reptile Diversification in the Triassic

Scientists writing in the on-line, open access journal “Scientific Reports”, have published details of a remarkable fossil discovery from a limestone quarry located close to the town of Vellberg in Baden-Württemberg (Germany).  The tiny fossilised remains of juvenile lizard-like reptile are helping palaeontologists to better understand the evolution of modern-day lizards and snakes as well as their taxonomic relationship with a “living fossil” – the tuatara of New Zealand.

The partially articulated fossil, including a beautifully preserved skull, is approximately 240 million-years-old (Middle Triassic – Ladinian faunal stage).  The entire specimen is around ten centimetres long and it has been named Vellbergia bartholomaei and classified as a stem-lepidosauromorph.

The Tiny Preserved Skull of Vellbergia bartholomaei

Vellbergia bartholomaei skull fossil and line drawing.

Vellbergia bartholomaei – photograph of fossil skull and interpretative line drawing.  The holotype material, note scale bar equals 5 mm approximately.

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

A Decisive Contribution to a Better Understanding of the Evolution of the Reptilia

The Middle Triassic represents a period in Earth’s history where tetrapod faunas were recovering from the global devastation caused by the end Permian extinction event.  However, the paucity of terrestrial vertebrate fossils has limited how much scientists can learn about how the fauna changed and developed during this time, prior to the emergence and eventual dominance of the Dinosauria.  Researchers from the Natural History Museum Stuttgart in collaboration with a colleague from Harvard University (USA), noted that the skeleton of V. bartholomaei showed anatomical traits that link it to both the Order Squamata (lizards and snakes) and the Rhynchocephalia, ancient lizard-like reptiles that includes only one living species, the tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus).

Co-author of the Scientific Paper Dr. Rainer Schoch Holding the Tiny Specimen of Vellbergia bartholomaei

Dr. Rainer Schoch (Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde Stuttgart).

Dr. Rainer Schoch (Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde Stuttgart), holding the tiny V. bartholomaei fossil.  The skull of the unrelated but contemporary archosaur Batrachotomus can be seen on the right.

Picture Credit: Stuttgart Natural History Museum (Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde Stuttgart)

Vellbergia bartholomaei

Vellbergia is named after the nearby town, whilst the species name honours Alfred Bartholomä of Neuenstein, who was responsible for many of the significant fossil finds associated with rocks of the Middle Triassic age from Germany.  The new species described here falls into the smallest size cluster so far collected from the Vellberg location, and likely represents the first juvenile individual from the site.  This new taxon depicts a mosaic of features that are generally observed in both early evolving rhynchocephalians and squamates, providing a link between the two and suggesting stem-lepidosauromorphs may have survived up to the Middle Triassic.

The mudstones associated with the limestone quarry have proved to be a particularly successful hunting ground for vertebrate palaeontologists.  In 2015, Everything Dinosaur reported upon another discovery made by Dr. Rainer Schoch and his colleagues, the finding of the fossilised remains that provided a fresh insight into the origins of modern turtles (Chelonia).

To read about this fossil discovery: Pappochelys rosinae The Grandfather of all Tortoises and Turtles.

The scientific paper: “A tiny new Middle Triassic stem-lepidosauromorph from Germany: implications for the early evolution of lepidosauromorphs and the Vellberg fauna” by Gabriela Sobral, Tiago R. Simões and Rainer R. Schoch published in Scientific Reports.

29 01, 2020

Noasaurids from Down Under

By | January 29th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Australia’s Latest Theropod Dinosaur

The theropod fossil record for Australia is particularly poor.  The majority of the meat-eating dinosaur fossils found down-under come from the Albian-Cenomanian faunal stages of the Cretaceous have been predominantly referred to the Megaraptoridae.  However, a single neck bone (cervical vertebra), found in an opal mine near the town of Lightning Ridge (New South Wales), in conjunction with a fragmentary ankle bone from the Gippsland Basin in Victoria have led scientists to conclude that another type of predatory dinosaur roamed Australia – noasaurids.

A Silhouette of the Unnamed Noasaurid with a Human Figure for Scale and the Fossil Neck Bone Placed in Life Position

Fossil neck bone and silhouette showing life position.

Silhouette showing approximate size of the Australian noasaurid and the fossil material.

Picture credit: Tom Brougham (University of New England, New South Wales)

Classifying the Noasauridae

The Noasauridae are a family of small-bodied, fast-running, largely predatory dinosaurs nested within the Superfamly Abelisauroidea, although their exact taxonomic position and which genera fit within the Noasauridae remains controversial.  Essentially, these types of dinosaurs are distantly related to the abelisaurids such as Carnotaurus and Rajasaurus.  Noasaurids demonstrate a wide range of anatomical characteristics.  For example, Masiakasaurus (M. knopfleri), known from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar, had a downturned lower jaw with teeth in both jaws, whereas the adult forms of Limusaurus (L. inextricabilis) known from the Jurassic of China, had no teeth in their jaws and could have been herbivores.

A Scale Drawing of Masiakasaurus (M. knopfleri)

Masiakasaurus scale drawing.

Unusual theropod dinosaur – Masiakasaurus, the downward turned lower jaw and the dentition suggest that this predator could have specialised in catching fish (piscivore).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The Noasauridae are known from the southern hemisphere and seem to have been confined to the landmass of Gondwana.

Dr Tom Brougham (University New England, New South Wales), one of the co-authors of the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports stated:

“It was assumed that noasaurids must have lived in Australia because their fossils have been found on other southern continents that, like Australia, were once part of the Gondwanan supercontinent.  These recent fossil finds demonstrate for the first time that noasaurids once roamed across Australia.  Discoveries of theropods are rare in Australia, so every little find we make reveals important details about our unique dinosaur fauna.”

To read more about Limusaurus: Limusaurus – A Dinosaur That Lost its Teeth as it Grew.

The partial cervical vertebra from the Wallangulla Sandstone Member of the Griman Formation, collected from an underground opal mine at the “Sheepyard” opal field, southwest of Lightning Ridge was found within a bonebed containing the iguanodontian Fostoria dhimbangunmal.  The bone is estimated to be around 100 million years old.  Although, the fossil (specimen number LRF 3050.AR), is badly eroded the researchers discovered that is resembled cervical vertebrae associated with the noasaurids, hence the diagnosis that this fossil indicates the presence of these types of theropod dinosaurs in Australia.

The Neck Bone from the Opal Mine Ascribed to the Noasauridae

Opal mine noasaurid neck bone.

The noasaurid cervical vertebra LRF 3050.AR in (a) ventral; (b) dorsal, (c) left lateral, (d) right lateral, (e) anterior and (f) posterior views.  Note scale bar = 50 mm.

Picture Credit: Brougham et al (Scientific Reports)

The scientists re-examined a ceratosaurian astragalocalcaneum fossil (NMV P221202) that had been found in 2012 in strata associated with the much older upper Barremian–lower Aptian San Remo Member of the upper Strzelecki group in Victoria.  It was concluded that this ankle bone also represented noasaurid fossil material.

The East Gippsland Ankle Bone Now Ascribed to the Noasauridae

East Gippsland astragalocalcaneum (NMV P221202).

The East Gippsland astragalocalcaneum (NMV P221202) in (a) anterior, (b) posterior, and (c) proximal views.  Note scale bar = 20 mm.  This fossil lends support to the idea that noasaurids were present in Australia.

Picture Credit: Brougham et al (Scientific Reports)

Oldest Known Noasaurid

Between them, the Lightning Ridge neck bone and the ankle bone from Victoria represent the first evidence of noasaurid dinosaurs found in Australia.  The astragalocalcaneum material comes from deposits that were laid down in the Early Cretaceous and could be 120 million years of age.  This would make the ankle bone the earliest known example of a noasaurid in the world described to date.  The recognition of Australian noasaurids further indicates a more widespread Gondwanan distribution of the clade outside of South America, Madagascar and India consistent with the timing of the fragmentation of the supercontinent.

The scientific paper: “Noasaurids are a component of the Australian ‘mid’-Cretaceous theropod fauna” by Tom Brougham, Elizabeth T. Smith and Phil R. Bell published in Scientific Reports.

27 01, 2020

A New Species of Allosaurus – Allosaurus jimmadseni

By | January 27th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

“Big Al” is Not Allosaurus fragilis but Allosaurus jimmadseni

A new species of North American Allosaurus has been described, the new dinosaur has been named Allosaurus jimmadseni, the species name honouring the late James H. Madsen Jr, Utah’s first state palaeontologist, who dedicated his career to excavating, preserving and studying the fossils found at the famous Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry.  In 1976, Madsen published a detailed monograph documenting the Allosaurus specimens found at this location, which is now the Jurassic National Monument complete with visitor centre.  The monograph describing and illustrating the Quarry’s Allosaurus fossils is regarded as a seminal piece of work that strongly influenced the direction of research into theropod dinosaurs.

A Pack of Allosaurs (Allosaurus jimmadseni) Attacking a Juvenile Sauropod

A pack of allosaurs (A. jimmadseni) attacking a juvenile sauropod.

Picture Credit: Todd Marshall

“The Ballard of Big Al” – Allosaurus jimmadseni

Fans of the documentary “The Ballard of Big Al”, a spin-off programme to the famous “Walking with Dinosaurs” television series, made by the BBC Natural History Unit and Impossible Pictures that first aired over twenty years ago, will remember that this programme told the story of the life of an Allosaurus.  The fossil specimen used as the basis for the story line, was found in the Howe Quarry (Wyoming), specimen number MOR 693.  This was thought to represent an Allosaurus fragilis, but MOR 693 “Big Al” has now been assigned to this new species.

The Star of the Ballard of Big Al (MOR 693) Now Assigned to A. jimmadseni

"The Ballard of Big Al".

The front cover of “The Ballard of Big Al” BBC/Impossible Pictures documentary.  Once thought to be an example of Allosaurus fragilis, this fossil specimen (MOR 693), has been reassigned to A. jimmadseni.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

New Allosaurus Species Based on Two Nearly Complete Fossil Skeletons

Writing in the academic journal PeerJ, the two authors of the scientific paper Mark Loewen, research associate at the Natural History Museum of Utah and associate professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Utah and co-worker Dan Chure, now retired, but formerly based at the Dinosaur National Monument, set out the case for the erection of a new species of Allosaurus.  Between them they have studied virtually all the Allosaurus specimens in North American museums, a research project that has taken two decades and is still on-going.  The paper describing Allosaurus jimmadseni, is one of several papers that will be published by the pair.  Future scientific papers will address post-cranial morphology and provide a further revision of the Allosaurus genus.

The new species of Allosaurus has been established based on the study of the “Big Al” specimen and specimen number DINO 11541 discovered by Dr George Engelmann (University of Nebraska), in 1990.  Excavation continued at the Dinosaur National Monument site for several years, gradually exposing an almost complete articulated skeleton, but missing the skull.  In the summer of 1996, University of Utah employee Ray Jones returned to the site and used a gamma X-ray detection device to locate the beautifully preserved cranium.

A Cast of the Specimen DINO 11541 Showing the Articulation and the Approximate position of the Skull

Painted cast of Allosaurus jimmadseni holotype material.

A painted cast of the holotype fossil material DINO 11541 (Allosaurus jimmadseni).

Picture Credit: Dan Chure

Three Recognised Allosaurus Species

Since Allosaurus was first erected by the American palaeontologist Othniel Charles Marsh in 1877, numerous species have been named.  However, in this research paper only three species are recognised – Allosaurus fragilis and Allosaurus jimmadseni in North America and Allosaurus europaeus from Europe.  The researchers identified a number of unique characteristics (autapomorphies), in the specimens MOR 693 and DINO 11541 that led them to propose a new species.  For example, the paired nasals of A. jimmadseni possess bilateral, thin, blade-like crests that run from the nostrils up the snout, ending at the apex of the eye socket.  This feature is absent in Allosaurus fragilis.

A Life Reconstruction of Allosaurus jimmadseni

Allosaurus jimmadseni life reconstruction.

A reconstruction of the head of Allosaurus jimmadseni.  Note the pair of bilateral nasal crests that run from the nostrils to the eye socket.  This feature is absent in Allosaurus fragilis.

Picture Credit: Andrey Atuchin

As a result of this new study, a number of other fossil specimens formerly placed within A. fragilis have been reassigned to A. jimmadseni.

Geologically the Oldest Species of Allosaurus

The “Big Al” fossil and specimen number DINO 11541 come from strata associated with the Lower Morrison Formation (Brushy Basin Member and Salt Wash Member respectively), as such, these animals are several million years older than those fossils now ascribed to Allosaurus fragilis.

Commenting on the significance of their extensive research, co-author Mark Loewen stated:

“Previously, palaeontologist thought there was only one species of Allosaurus in Jurassic North America, but this study shows that there were two species.  The newly described Allosaurus jimmadseni evolved at least five million years earlier than its younger cousin, Allosaurus fragilis.  The skull of Allosaurus jimmadseni is more lightly built than its later relative Allosaurus fragilis, suggesting a different feeding behaviour between the two.”

Comparing Allosaurus Skulls (Three Species Compared)

Comparing Allosaurus skulls.

Comparing the skulls of Allosaurus species (left lateral view).  (A) Allosaurus fragilis (DINO 2560).  (B) Allosaurus jimmadseni (DINO 11541).  (C) Allosaurus europaeus (ML 415).  Scale bars equal 10 cm.

Picture Credit: Chure and Loewen published in PeerJ

An Anagenetic Lineage?

This study suggests that Allosaurus jimmadseni fossils are found in the Salt Wash Member of the Morrison Formation in Utah and the lower part of the Brushy Basin Member of the Morrison Formation in Wyoming and South Dakota.  If this is the case, then it raises the question whether the later A. fragilis evolved from the earlier Allosaurus jimmadseni.  Did Allosaurus fragilis directly evolve from its older, close relative?  If it did, then this is a form of evolution known as anagenesis – whereby one species gradually evolves into a new species over a long period of geological time.  An anagenetic lineage occurs when one population representing a single species, over thousands and thousands of years, gradually accumulates change.  These changes eventually become sufficiently distinct from the earlier form that descendants can be labelled a new species.

Skull Drawings and Skeletal Reconstructions of Allosaurus jimmadseni

Skull and skeletal diagrams Allosaurus jimmadseni.

Skull and skeletal reconstructions of Allosaurus jimmadseni.

Picture Credit: Chure and Loewen published in PeerJ with additional notation by Everything Dinosaur.

The illustration above shows stylised line drawings of the skull of Allosaurus jimmadseni in lateral, dorsal and posterior views along with skeletal reconstructions of DINO 11541 and “Big Al”.  Scale bar (A-C) equals 10 cm and for D-E 1 metre.

Allosaurus, as the most common genus of Late Jurassic theropod in North America has played a significant role in helping palaeontologists to cement the phylogeny of Jurassic meat-eating dinosaurs. A revision of this key genus will probably have important consequences for future studies regarding the taxonomy of the Coelurosauria.

The scientific paper: “Cranial anatomy of Allosaurus jimmadseni, a new species from the lower part of the Morrison Formation (Upper Jurassic) of Western North America” by Daniel J. Chure and Mark A. Loewen published in PeerJ.

24 01, 2020

Phytosaurs from Zimbabwe

By | January 24th, 2020|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Evidence Found of Late Triassic Phytosaurs in Southern Africa

A team of international researchers have reported the discovery of phytosaur fossils from southern Africa.  A local safari guide noticed some fossils eroding out of sediments on the shores of Lake Kariba in northern Zimbabwe.  Field expeditions to the area were undertaken in 2017 and 2018 and the researchers, which included scientists from the London Natural History Museum, were able to map the fauna and flora of a Late Triassic freshwater ecosystem.

Fragmentary remains including dermal scutes (armour), teeth and bones were found and this is the first evidence that crocodile-like phytosaurs were present in southern Africa.  Many palaeontologists thought that these aquatic reptiles were confined mostly to the tropics and sub-tropics.  These fossils suggest that phytosaurs may have been more widely distributed than previously thought.

A Museum Exhibit Featuring a Typical Phytosaur (National Museum of Wales)

A typical phytosaur.

A museum exhibit featuring a typical phytosaur.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Not Closely Related to Modern Crocodiles

Phytosaurs superficially resemble modern crocodiles, especially long, thin snouted forms like the American crocodile and the Gharial, although they are not closely related.  It is likely that phytosaurs filled the same ecological niche as extant crocodilians, hunting for fish and small reptiles/amphibians around bodies of freshwater, although it is now known that some phytosaurs adapted to a marine environment: Marine Phytosaurs of the Triassic.

The Phytosauria clade and its superficial similarity to crocodilians is an example of convergent evolution, whereby, similar features and traits evolve in unrelated species.  One of the easiest ways to tell a crocodile from a phytosaur is to look at the skull.  The jaws and teeth may look similar but with crocodiles the pair of nostrils are located towards the front of the snout whilst in phytosaurs the nostrils are located towards the back of the snout, much closer to the eyes.

The Location of the Nostrils in Phytosaurs

Telling the difference between a phytosaur and a crocodile.

The location of the nostrils in a phytosaur.  The nostrils are located towards the rear of the snout, close to the eyes not at the anterior portion of the snout as in the Crocodilia.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Fossilised remains of phytosaurs have been found in Europe, North America, Morocco, Madagascar, India and Brazil.  The strata in which these fossils are found would have been at a low latitude when the sediments were laid down.  In comparison, the Lake Kariba fossil finds indicate that large phytosaurs were living very far from the equator.  Until now, phytosaurs had been unknown from high southerly latitudes.

Professor Paul Barret, (London Natural History Museum), a co-author of the scientific paper stated:

“This is the first discovery of phytosaurs from southern Africa.  It provides us with our first snapshot of a mostly aquatic environment from this part of the world, which was part of the ecological puzzle that was missing before.”

The study has also permitted the researchers to properly date the rocks in which the fossils were found, placing the entire site into much greater context with the other Triassic-age formations found across South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia and Botswana.

Environmental Indicators

The presence of large phytosaurs in Zimbabwe, is a good indicator of the environment and climatic conditions in the area some 210 million years ago.

Professor Barrett explained:

“Phytosaurs usually need permanent bodies of water.  They’re big animals that liked large lakes and rivers.”

These kinds of environments would not have been unusual during the Late Triassic, which is one of the reasons why the distinct lack of any phytosaurs from southern Africa is particularly curious.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a news release from the London Natural History Museum in the compilation of this article.

15 01, 2020

Ediacaran Fossil Site Gains Protection

By | January 15th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Geology, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

South Australian Fossil Site Purchase Supported by Billionaire

With so much bad news about the environment coming out of Australia due to the devastating bush fires, it is pleasing to report on a conservation success story.   A $1 billion (USD), nature fund has been used to buy a vast tract of outback South Australia containing some of the oldest animal fossils on Earth.  The acquisition safeguards an extremely important fossil site and helps support the Australian Government’s plans to gain World Heritage Site status for the area.

The Nilpena Fossil Fields (South Australia)

The Nilpena fossil fields (South Australia).

The Nilpena fossil fields preserve examples of Precambrian biota.

Picture Credit: Jason Irving

The 60,000-hectare (150,000 acre) Nilpena West property is 370 miles (600 kilometres), north of the South Australian capital Adelaide and was previously part of Nilpena Pastoral Station.  The property includes the Ediacara Fossil Site (Nilpena), which is listed on Australia’s National Heritage List and records a remarkable marine biota, documenting some of the earliest, large, multicellular creatures to have evolved on Earth.

Global not-for-profit organisation The Nature Conservancy, sourced funding from an anonymous donor in October 2019 to allow the purchase and protection to go ahead after the South Australian Government announced in March that it had reached an agreement with the land’s owners to purchase the site.  The purchased land is adjacent to the Ediacara Conservation Park and increases the size of the protected area ten-fold.

The Importance of the Flinders Range

Strange fossils, preserved in the sandstone of the Ediacaran hills of South Australia provided the first substantial evidence for the existence of complex life in the late Precambrian.  In 1946, Australian geologist Reginald Spriggs discovered fossilised impressions in this part of the Flinders Range, his unexpected discovery failed to enthuse the scientific community at first, his paper outlining the discovery was rejected by the academic journal “Nature”.  However, the significance of these exquisitely preserved fossils and what they represented – organisms associated with an ancient marine community, was soon realised.

An Example of Dickinsonia – One of the Fossilised Ediacaran Organisms Associated with the Nilpena Fossil Fields

Dickinsonia costata fossil.

The Ediacaran fossil Dickinsonia costata, specimen P40135 from the collections of the South Australia Museum.  The disc-like Dickinsonia is one of the creatures preserved at the Nilpena fossil site.

Picture Credit: Dr Alex Liu (Cambridge University)

To read an article about the bizarre Dickinsonia: Dickinsonia Definitely an Animal.

The sale has now been finalised with The Nature Conservancy announcing this week that funding from the Wyss Campaign for Nature, the once anonymous donor, had helped secure the acquisition.  The Wyss Campaign for Nature was founded two years ago, by the wealthy, Swiss-born philanthropist Hansjörg Wyss.  The purchased land will be permanently protected and managed by the South Australian Government.  It will be formally allocated to the Ediacara Conservation Park later this year.

A Map Showing the Location of the Nilpena Fossil Fields Relative to the Ediacara Conservation Park

A map of the Nilpena fossil fields site.

Nilpena fossil fields site.  The Nilpena Station purchase will greatly increase the protected area for the fossils.

Picture Credit: The Government of South Australia

The South Australian property is now permanently protected and managed for conservation by the South Australian Government. It will be added to the Ediacara Conservation Park later this year.

Scores of Species

Palaeontologists have excavated many hundreds of specimens representing three dozen different species, most of which are more than 550 million years old.  The fossils provide the first evidence of locomotion and sexual reproduction.  The space agency NASA, has examined the Ediacaran biota in a project to assess how life could evolve on other worlds.

The Nature Conservancy’s Australian Director of Conservation Dr James Fitzsimons explained that this purchase which would permit the formal protection of the 60,000 hectare property was a big win for conservation in South Australia.

He commented:

“The property contains significant biodiversity values including two threatened ecological communities and a number of threatened species.  Most critically, the property also covers extremely important sites that contain the oldest fossilised animals on Earth.”

South Australian Environment and Water Minister David Speirs said Nilpena West would soon be added to the South Australian public protected area estate and managed by the Department for Environment and Water.

The minister added:

“Its inclusion in the conservation estate will link the Ediacara Conservation Park to the Lake Torrens National Park and will support our nomination for the listing of areas of the Flinders Ranges as a World Heritage Site.”

When did life on land evolve?  An Ediacaran related article: When Did Life on Land First Evolve – Does the Ediacaran Biota Provide the Answer?

A recent article about how computerised tomography and other sophisticated research techniques are providing new insights into how the first animals evolved: Chinese Fossils Suggest Animal-like-embryos Evolved Before Animals.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from The Lead South Australia in the compilation of this article.

11 01, 2020

Thin-skinned, Grey Duck-billed Dinosaurs

By | January 11th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Thin-skinned, Grey Duck-billed Dinosaurs

Scientists writing in the journal of The Palaeontological Association have published a remarkable study on the properties of the skin of duck-billed dinosaurs.  Analysis of fossilised hadrosaur skin, from the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History (New Haven, Connecticut), suggests that the skin structure of these dinosaurs had more in common with living birds than with reptiles.  In addition, the skin is much thinner when compared to large, terrestrial mammals of comparable size such as elephants and rhinos.  In a blow to palaeoartists who like to adorn their ornithischian illustrations with a multitude of colours, the scientists conclude from an analysis of potential preserved skin pigments that hadrosaurids were grey in colour.

Hadrosaurs Could Have Been Largely Grey in Colour Just Like Big Terrestrial Mammals Alive Today Such as Elephants

Gryposaurus - Hadrosaur Model available from Everything Dinosaur.

The Wild Safari Prehistoric World Gryposaurus dinosaur model.  The model’s colouration being largely grey may actually reflect the true colouration of duck-billed dinosaurs.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Getting Under the Skin of a Dinosaur

Scientists from Yale University, in collaboration with colleagues in Italy, investigated the chemical properties of a section of fossilised duck-billed dinosaur skin that had been preserved in three dimensions. The specimen (YPMPU 016969) was also subjected to detailed chemical mapping and microspectroscopy as well as scanning electron micrographs to establish the anatomical structure.

Two of the three layers associated with skin in tetrapods were identified, the outer layer (epidermis) and the dermis. The innermost layer, the subcutis, could not be identified in this study.  The dinosaur’s scales on the skin surface are very well-preserved.  They form an irregular, pebbly pattern with individual scales ranging in size from under one millimetre in diameter to much larger scales around 12 millimetres across.

Specimen Number YPMPU 016969 – The Fossilised Skin Studied

Fossilised duck-billed dinosaur skin.

The skin preserved in YPMPU 016969 (A), three‐dimensional skin and (B), the fossil counterpart. Scale bar represents 2 cm.

Picture Credit: Yale University

Three-dimensionally Preserved Pigment Bearing Bodies and  Blood Vessels

The detailed analysis of the fossilised skin and the samples taken permitted the scientists to identify three-dimensionally preserved eumelanin‐bearing bodies.  This enabled the researchers to propose that the dinosaur was mostly dark grey in colour, a skin colouration that reflects ecological parallels seen in today’s large, terrestrial animals such as elephants and rhinos.  However, caution is urged when it comes to determining the colouration of these types of dinosaurs.  There might be a preservation bias in favour of pigment cells that produce darker skin tones, other pigments may not have been preserved.  The section of fossil skin also permitted the researchers to trace blood vessels and dermal cells.

The Study Suggests That Large-bodied Hadrosaurids Were Similar in Colour to Today’s Large-bodied Terrestrial Mammals

Analysis suggests grey-coloured hadrosaurids.

A life reconstruction of a grey-coloured duck-billed dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Yale University

Surprisingly Thin Skin

The skin was found to be much thinner than that of living mammals of similar size.  The outer layer of skin is around 0.2 mm in thickness, whilst the dermis is estimated to have been up to 3 mm thick.  Although, no measurements for the subcutis layer could be made, in living elephants the skin is around 10-15 mm thick and in extant rhinos a skin thickness (all three layers, epidermis, dermis and subcutis), of 25 mm is not uncommon.

The relative thickness of the epidermis and dermis in YPMPU 016969 resembles that in birds more closely than that of reptiles.

If the skin of these large, Cretaceous herbivores is so much thinner than previously thought, then how does it fossilise more readily than the integumentary coverings of other dinosaurs?  After all, the most commonly preserved soft tissues associated with ornithischian dinosaurs are skin remains.  The researchers postulate that the unusual layering and the microstructure of hadrosaur skin may play an important role in its fossilisation potential.

The scientific paper: “Three-dimensional soft tissue preservation revealed in the skin of a non-avian dinosaur” by Matteo Fabbri, Jasmina Wiemann, Fabio Manucci and Derek E. G. Briggs published in Palaeontology – the journal of The Palaeontological Association

3 01, 2020

Palaeontology Predictions for 2020

By | January 3rd, 2020|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Press Releases|0 Comments

Everything Dinosaur’s Palaeontology Predictions for 2020

Just for a little bit of fun, team members at Everything Dinosaur have been taking a look into their crystal balls to see if they can predict some of the news stories and other articles that we will feature on this blog site over the coming twelve months or so.  Proposals have been brought forward, we have discussed and debated and come up with a list of our predictions for what we think will be covered in our next 365 or so blog posts.

Here are our attempts at second guessing what news stories will be covered on this site.  At the end of 2020, we will take a look back to see how we have done.

1).  A new Dinosaur Named from Thailand

Last year we predicted that a new dinosaur would be named and described from fossil discoveries made in India.  We drew a blank on that one, we did not report any new genera from India being erected, so, this time we will predict that a new dinosaur will be discovered in Thailand, perhaps a basal ornithopod or a member of the Theropoda.   Last year we reported upon the discovery of two meat-eating dinosaurs from Thailand (Phuwiangvenator yaemniyomi and Vayuraptor nongbualamphuensis), in previous years we have blogged about the discovery of the remains of a huge sauropod.  Dinosaur fossils from Thailand are rare, but we will stick our collective necks out and predict a new dinosaur from this part of south-east Asia.

To read our 2019 blog article about Phuwiangvenator yaemniyomi and Vayuraptor nongbualamphuensisTwo New Theropods from Thailand.

Will a New Theropod Dinosaur be Named in 2020 from Fossils Found in Thailand?

Will Thailand have a new theropod dinosaur in 2020?

A new genus of theropod dinosaur to be named from fossil discoveries made in Thailand?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

2).  Everything Dinosaur to be Awarded Feefo Platinum Award for Customer Service

The independent ratings company Feefo will introduce a new top standard of customer service in 2020.  The Feefo Platinum Trusted Service award recognises those businesses that go above and beyond to provide a consistently high level of customer service all the time.  This is the highest service recognition that Feefo has ever offered, will Everything Dinosaur achieve these exacting standards.  Our team members are going to do their best, if we continue to put our customers front and centre then we predict that Everything Dinosaur will achieve this standard in the next twelve months.

Everything Dinosaur Has Earned the Feefo Gold Standard for Customer Service but in 2020 Can We Do Better?

Gold Trusted Service Award to Everything Dinosaur.

Feefo awards top marks to Everything Dinosaur.  Will Everything Dinosaur earn the Platinum Trusted Service accolade in 2020?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

3).  The “Jurassic Mile” to Make its Mark

A 26o hectare site in Wyoming (United States), will continue to astonish scientists with the wealth of Late Jurassic fossil material that it contains.  We predict that Everything Dinosaur will report on more discoveries from this remarkable site.  The location will be opened again in the spring and the joint Dutch, American and British research team will be adding to their discoveries shortly afterwards.  Expect more news of sauropods, fossil flora and dinosaur tracks, with theropods and stegosaurs thrown into the mix too.  It is the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis that is leading the research, we predict more news from them and sadly, the first reports of illegal fossil gathering from the site.

Professor Phil Manning (University of Manchester) at the “Jurassic Mile”

Professor Phil Manning and the diplodocid femur.

Professor Phil Manning (The University of Manchester) poses next to a diplodocid femur.

Picture Credit: Manchester University

4).  The Anthropocene and our Carbon Footprint

Climate change will dominate the news in the coming years.  Everything Dinosaur team members predict that the Anthropocene, the proposed, new geological epoch dating from the commencement of significant human impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems will be thrown into sharp focus this year.  Research will be published that contrasts the sudden rise in greenhouse gases with what is known about global warming from ancient palaeoclimates.  In 2019, Everything Dinosaur developed an environmental and ethical trading policy.  We will continue to do our part by increasing the amount of recycled packing materials we use, cutting out waste, increasing the amount of material recycled and reducing our use or electricity.  We have a number of initiatives in place to help make our company more environmentally friendly including supporting the restoration of natural habitats.  We predict blog posts will focus on the environmental emergency and that links will be made to previous climate change events recorded by scientists.  The concept of a sixth mass extinction event as recorded in the Phanerozoic will be reported upon in this weblog.

Expecting the Anthropocene to Make Headlines in 2020

Climate change, time is running short to make necessary changes.

Climate change, time is running out, changes in human activity need to be made.

Picture Credit: Associated Press

5).  Everything Dinosaur to add an Additional Fifty Models

This year is going to be yet another very busy one for Everything Dinosaur.  The range of models and figures that we currently supply is vast but just as last year we predict that at least fifty new replicas and figures will be added to our range over the next twelve months.  We have already made exclusive announcements about CollectA models and Papo, expect more news about new products in the coming months.  Fifty new models works out at around one new model every 175 hours!

New Models for 2020 in Stock at Everything Dinosaur

New models and figures expected at Everything Dinosaur in 2020.

Everything Dinosaur expects to stock a lot of new prehistoric animal figures in 2020.  Expect new models from Rebor, Beasts of the Mesozoic, CollectA, Safari Ltd and Papo in 2020.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

6). “Jurassic World 3” – First Trailers Expected

Expect the hyperbole regarding the sixth instalment of the “Jurassic Park/World” movie franchise to build over the next twelve months.  The first teaser trailers are likely to be released soon, perhaps airing first in the USA during the commercials surrounding the Super Bowl in early February.  An announcement has already been made about the original stars of the 1993 film “Jurassic Park”, joining the cast and reprising their roles for the new film.  “Jurassic World 3” is due for release in 2021 and will be directed by Colin Trevorrow.

Stars of the Original Film will Feature in “Jurassic World 3”

Stars to return in "Jurassic World 3".

Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum will reprise their roles.  However, Gennaro (pictured far left), played by Martin Ferrero, is not going to return, his part in the franchise was ended by a hungry T. rex.

Picture Credit: Getty Images

7).  Picking Up a Prehistoric Penguin

Last but not least comes our prediction that sometime over the next twelve months or so a scientific paper will be published that describes a new species of prehistoric penguin.  Lots of different types of prehistoric birds are going to be named and described in 2020.  We can expect new discoveries from China, the United States and possibly Antarctica.  However, Everything Dinosaur team members predict that a scientific paper will be published naming and describing a new species of penguin, perhaps a recent Pleistocene species or an early member of the Sphenisciformes Order.  New Zealand has proved to be a successful hunting ground for fossils of early penguins so we predict that the fossil discoveries will come from that country.

To read a recent article about the fossils of a giant penguin: Monster Penguin from the Southern Hemisphere.

So, we have made seven predictions about news stories and other articles that we will feature on this blog site over the coming year.  In twelve months’ time, we will look back to see how we have got on.

2 01, 2020

Palaeontology Predictions for 2019 – How Did We Get On?

By | January 2nd, 2020|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Press Releases|1 Comment

Palaeontology Predictions for 2019 – How Did We Get On?

One of the skills in science is being able to predict the outcome of any experiment.  The prediction can then be compared with the actual outcome and the reasons for any variance can become another line of enquiry.  In early January, there are lots of New Year resolutions being made, but for team members at Everything Dinosaur, rather than looking forward, we shall reflect on the list of palaeontology predictions we made twelve months ago.  How accurate were our attempts at trying to second guess news stories we would cover in this blog?

Thus, we end the preamble and jump right in…

Here is the list of our 2019 palaeontology predictions with notes as to how well (or how badly) we did:

The List of Predictions (2019)

1).  More Ceratopsians to be Described from America (Four New Members of the Marginocephalia).
2).  Herefordshire Lagerstätte To Make Its Mark Again – A New Species of Silurian Marine Invertebrate.
3).  A New Dinosaur from India.
4).  Fifty New Models Available from Everything Dinosaur.
5).  The Presence of Melanosomes Amongst the Dinosauria (The Colour of Dinosaurs).
6).  A New Species of Large Azhdarchid Pterosaur – northern Africa or the Hateg Basin.
7).  New Tyrannosaurids from the United States (Two New Species).

1).  Four New Members of the Marginocephalia

We are off to a bit of a shaky start.  In 2018, we reported on one new addition to the Marginocephalia and again in 2019 we covered just one new member of this clade.  Our blushes were saved by the first unique dinosaur species to have been found in the Canadian Province of British Columbia – Ferrisaurus sustutensis.  We thought there would be more horned dinosaurs and pachycephalosaurs from what was the southern portion of Laramidia, but no, Ferrisaurus roamed the more northerly parts of this ancient landmass.

Ferrisaurus sustutensis Life Reconstruction

Ferrisaurus sustutensis life reconstruction.

Ferrisaurus sustutensis illustrated.  Just one new member of the Marginocephalia reported upon in 2019, the leptoceratopsid F. sustutensis.

Picture Credit: Raven Amos and courtesy of the Royal British Columbia Museum

2).  A New Species of Silurian Marine Invertebrate – Herefordshire Lagerstätte Fossil Find

Back in April 2019, team members wrote about the discovery of a multi-tentacled predator from the secret Silurian-aged Herefordshire Lagerstätte.  Sollasina cthulhu was described in some press reports as a “monster”, but at just three centimetres in diameter, things need to be kept in perspective.  However, it was likely a seafloor-dwelling, ferocious predator and a significant fossil discovery, as it helps to shed light on the evolution of sea cucumbers and their relatives, many of which are still with us today.

Sollasina cthulhu Life Reconstruction

Life reconstruction of the Silurian ancestral sea cucumber Sollasina cthulhu.

Sollasina cthulhu life reconstruction.

Picture Credit: Elissa Martin, (Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History)

3).  A New Dinosaur from India

Whoops, despite lots of new dinosaurs being named and described last year (we think there were 43 new genera published), as far as the team members at Everything Dinosaur are aware, India drew a blank.    Approximately 8 new genera were described from Argentina, China and the USA produced 6 and 5 respectively.  Mongolia had 4 new dinosaur genera named in 2019.  As for India, nothing, our prediction proved to be inaccurate.  There was even a formal description of a long-awaited dinosaur discovery from Japan: Japan’s Greatest Dinosaur Fossil Gets a Name, but nothing from India, better luck next time.

Argentina Recorded Eight New Dinosaur Genera in 2019 including Bajadasaurus pronuspinax

CollectA Bajadasaurus model and an illustration of the strange cervical vertebrae.

The bizarre cervical vertebrae of Bajadasaurus and a life reconstruction, one of eight new genera of dinosaur described from Argentina in 2019.

Picture Credit: Gallina et al published in Scientific Reports and Everything Dinosaur

4).  Fifty New Models Available from Everything Dinosaur

With new figures from Mojo Fun, Schleich, PNSO, Rebor, Papo, CollectA and Beasts of the Mesozoic there were more than fifty new prehistoric animal replicas added to the Everything Dinosaur range last year, how many more in 2020?  Perhaps, we could have a go at a prediction for the next twelve months.

Lots and Lots of New Prehistoric Animal Models Added to the Everything Dinosaur Portfolio in 2019

A large number of prehistoric animal models added to Everything Dinosaur's huge range.

More than fifty different prehistoric animal models added to Everything Dinosaur’s huge range in 2019.  Mojo Fun, PNSO, Rebor, CollectA, Beasts of the Mesozoic, Schleich and Papo what a huge range!

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

5).  The Presence of Melanosomes Amongst the Dinosauria

East Gippsland (Victoria, Australia), currently being devastated by intense bush fires, provided Everything Dinosaur with evidence of the colour of dinosaurs from “Down Under”.  Remarkable bird and non-avian fossilised feathers from the Koonwarra Fish Beds Geological Reserve were analysed and fresh insights into the plumage of Early Cretaceous inhabitants of southern Gondwana were gained.  The scientists, writing in the academic journal “Gondwana Research”, highlighted dark pigmentation which might have provided camouflage or helped with the absorption of energy from the rays of sun – helpful if you live in high latitudes.  Looks like we got this prediction just about right.

One of the Tufted Body Feathers from the Research Paper

Feather fossil from the A fossilised feather from the Koonwarra Fish Beds Geological Reserve.

A fossilised feather from the Koonwarra Fish Beds Geological Reserve.  More information on prehistoric pigmentation.

Picture Credit: Kundrát et al (Gondwana Research)

6).  A New, Large Azhdarchid Pterosaur

2019 proved to be a productive year for pterosaur research, sure enough one of the nine new genera named was indeed a giant, azhdarchid (Cryodrakon boreas).  However, we predicted that this find would be reported from north African deposits or perhaps from the famous Hateg Basin of Romania.  We were correct when it came to the pterosaur but a few thousand miles out when it came to the location of its discovery.  Like Ferrisaurus sustutensis, this was a fossil discovery from Canada, but not from British Columbia, the Cryodrakon fossil remains come from the Dinosaur Provincial Park Formation of southern Alberta.  To read more about this giant flying reptile: The First Pterosaur Unique to Canada.  As Ferrisaurus was the first dinosaur unique to Canada, so Cryodrakon is the first reported pterosaur that was unique to this country too.

7).  Two New Tyrannosaurids from the United States

In February, we reported on a fast-running member of the Tyrannosauroidea from the Cedar Mountain Formation (Utah).  This dinosaur was named Moros intrepidus.  In May, Everything Dinosaur team members blogged about the newly described Suskityrannus hazelae.  It [Suskityrannus] may only have been around three metres in length, but it represents one of the best known early Late Cretaceous tyrannosauroids yet to be described.

Moros intrepidus (top) and Suskityrannus hazelae (below)

M. intrepidus and S. hazelae life reconstruction.

Moros intrepidus and Suskityrannus hazelae illustrations.

Picture Credit: Andrey Atuchin (S. hazelae) and Jorge Gonzalez (M. intrepidus)

So, all in all, not a bad set of predictions, some were admittedly more accurate than others.  What predictions will we make for 2020?  We will publish our thoughts tomorrow.

29 12, 2019

Carboniferous Parental Care

By | December 29th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Carboniferous Fossil Provides Evidence of Parental Care

Parental care is a common behaviour amongst mammals, the chances of the offspring surviving are enhanced by the parents making an investment in looking after their young, but when did this behavioural strategy evolve in the ancestors of the Mammalia?  This is a tricky question to answer as evidence for such behaviours is rarely preserved in the fossil record, but a remarkable discovery inside a lithified tree stump dating from around 305 million years ago from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia (Canada), may have provided palaeontologists with a fresh insight into prehistoric parenting.

A team of scientists writing in the academic journal “Nature Ecology & Evolution” report the discovery of fossilised remains of an adult lizard-like creature in association with a very young member of the same species preserved within the tree stump.  Finding an adult and associated conspecific juvenile has been interpreted as evidence of the parent staying close to its offspring and therefore a demonstration of parental care.

The creatures are members of the Varanopidae family, so called as these creatures resemble extant monitor lizards (Varanus), but they are not closely related to monitor lizards and are a new genus.  They have been named Dendromaia unamakiensis and if this is prehistoric parental care, then it predates the previous earliest evidence by some forty million years.

Evidence of Parental Care in a Synapsid (Dendromaia unamakiensis)

Dendromaia unamakiensis life reconstruction - evidence of parental care in a synapsid.

Dendromaia unamakiensis life reconstruction.

Picture Credit: Henry Sharpe

A Varanopid (Synapsid) Caring for its Young

The Varanopidae are geographically widespread and temporally diverse.  Most of these animals were around 1 metre in length, much of their body length was made up of their long tails.   They evolved during the Carboniferous and persisted into the Middle Permian.  Varanopids are regarded as one of the most successful of the early types of amniotes, however, whether they are ancestral to modern mammals and members of the Synapsida or whether they are actually diapsids is an area of debate amongst palaeontologists.

Commenting on the significance of the fossil discovery, lead author of the scientific paper Professor Hillary Maddin (Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada), commented:

“Parental care is a behavioural strategy where parents make an investment or divert resources from themselves to increase the health and chances of survival for their offspring.  While there are a variety of parental care strategies, prolonged postnatal care is amongst the most costly to a parent.  This form of parental care is particularly common in mammals, as all mammalian offspring demand nourishment from their mothers.”

The Slab and Counter Slab with the Preserved Remains of the D. unamakiensis Fossils

Dendromaia unamakiensis slab and counter slab.

The slab and the counter slab with the preserved Dendromaia unamakiensis fossils.

Picture Credit: Maddin et al

The researchers concluded that this was evidence of parental care as the preservation of delicate details and structures in the fossils indicate a rapid burial with little movement after death.  The adult and the juvenile were close to each other at the time that they died.  The location of the young animal beneath the hindlimb and encircled tail of the adult resembles a position associated with animals living in a den.

Earliest Evidence of Prolonged Parental Care

The fossils could represent the earliest known record of prolonged parental care.  Prior to this discovery, the previous earliest record of this sort of parental behaviour was identified in a varanopid from the Middle Permian of South Africa.  A scientific paper was published in 2007, describing the discovery of five articulated conspecific varanopid specimens, one of which was much larger than the others.  This was interpreted as an adult and four juveniles, a family group with the older animal looking after its offspring.

Whether Dendromaia is a synapsid of diapsid might be debatable, but whatever the taxonomic relationship to other more advanced amniotes, this fossil discovery suggests that parental care is deeply rooted within the Amniota clade and that parenting behaviour might have been more widespread amongst Palaeozoic tetrapods than previously thought.

The scientific paper: “Varanopid from the Carboniferous of Nova Scotia reveals evidence of parental care in amniotes” by Hillary C. Maddin, Arjan Mann and Brian Hebert published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

26 12, 2019

Dinosaurs Bred Close to the South Pole

By | December 26th, 2019|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Baby Dinosaurs from Australia Indicate Dinosaurs Bred at High Latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere

Evidence has been found of ornithopod dinosaurs breeding at high latitudes in the northern hemisphere but evidence of similar behaviours in the southern hemisphere, dinosaurs nesting within the Antarctic Circle, had been lacking until now.  Writing in the on-line, open access journal “Scientific Reports”, researchers from the University of New England (New South Wales, Australia), in collaboration with colleagues from the Australian Opal Centre (Lightning Ridge, New South Wales), report the discovery of two tiny thigh bones (femora), that suggest that ornithopods did breed in southern polar environments.

An Artist’s Reconstruction of a Nesting Ornithopod with Recently Hatched Young

Dinosaurs Nesting Close to the South Pole.

A life reconstruction of a nesting Australian ornithopod (based on Weewarrasaurus).  The two femora are indistinct and scientists are not able to identify them down to the genus level but since the wallaby-sized ornithopod Weewarrasaurus is known from close by, the reconstruction has been based on this dinosaur.

Picture Credit: James Kuether

Co-author of the scientific paper, Dr Phil Bell (School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England) explained:

“We have examples of hatchling-sized dinosaurs from close to the North Pole, but this is the first time we’ve seen this kind of thing anywhere in the southern hemisphere.  It’s the first clue we’ve had about where these animals were breeding and raising their young.”

Dinosaurs Were Able to Tolerate a Range of Climates

The discovery of the two tiny, opalised thigh bones adds to the growing body of evidence that suggests that the Dinosauria, just like their close relatives the birds,  were remarkably climate-tolerant.  They thrived in equatorial, temperate and polar environments.  Fossilised eggshell and the fossilised remains of tiny hatchling hadrosaurids demonstrates that dinosaurs bred at high latitudes in the northern hemisphere and now the discovery to two partial thigh bones from the Griman Creek Formation exposed near Lightning Ridge suggests that non-iguanodontid ornithopods bred beyond sixty degrees south, well inside the Antarctic Circle.

The Two Opalised Fragmentary Dinosaur Thigh Bones (Femora)

The two tiny thigh bones indicate dinosaur nesting within the Antarctic Circle.

Proximal parts of ornithopod femora from the Griman Creek Formation. LRF 0759 (a–d). LRF 3375 (e–i).  Anterior views (a-e); (b,f) medial views; (c,g) posterior views; (d,i) proximal views; (h) lateral view.

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

The two fragmentary fossil femurs do not preserve any evidence of histology, so, it is not possible to determine the exact age of the animals from these fossils.  However, when this material is compared with neonatal and slightly older, possible yearling specimens known from the geologically slightly older Eumeralla and Wonthaggi formations in Victoria (Australia), it can be deduced that these are the thigh bones of embryonic dinosaurs, ones that were yet to hatch.

The femur is relatively large (although in these tiny dinosaurs, one femur is estimated to have a total length of 4.5 cm, whilst the other is even smaller with an estimated total length of just 3.7 cm), as such, this bone has a better chance of surviving the fossilisation process than most of the other bones in the dinosaur’s body.  Palaeontologists had thought that dinosaurs living at high latitudes were not permanent residents, they migrated into these areas during the period of extended daylight and subsequent copious plant growth, just like herds of caribou in the Arctic Circle do today.  However, the ornithopods, even as fully grown adults were relatively small animals, as such they were probably not capable of migrating vast distances.  Therefore, it is likely that at least some dinosaurs were permanent residents at very high southerly latitudes and as such they bred at these environments.

Palaeogeographic Map of Australia Around 100 Million Years Ago

Palaeogeographic map of South Pole (100 million years ago).

Palaeogeographic map of Australia at the Albian/Cenomanian boundary (circa 100 million years ago) showing the fossil localities discussed in this paper. (1) Lightning Ridge, Griman Creek Formation (Cenomanian); (2) Dinosaur Cove, Eumeralla Formation (Albian); (3) Flat Rocks, Wonthaggi Formation (Aptian).

Picture Credit: Scientific Reports

The image (above) shows the approximate landmass associated with the polar regions around 100 million years ago.  The tiny fossilised thigh bones come from (1) the Lightning Ridge location.  In order to determine the age of these dinosaurs, they were compared with bones representing neonatal and slightly older animals found at locations (2) and (3).

The researchers conclude that these fossils support they hypothesis that some dinosaurs at least were permanent residents in the very southernmost portion of Gondwana.

The scientific paper: “High-latitude neonate and perinate ornithopods from the mid-Cretaceous of south-eastern Australia” by Justin L. Kitchener, Nicolás E. Campione, Elizabeth T. Smith and Phil R. Bell published in Scientific Reports.

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